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Three competencies for successful leadership

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One of my main roles as CEO — arguably my main role aside from setting the strategic direction of the company — is to be a leader, the best one I can be. Being a leader is the greatest honor that could be bestowed on me.

There are two sides to the leadership coin. On one side you have leadership attributes. Attributes include empathy, honesty, integrity, intellect and so on. If someone does not possess the attributes necessary for leadership, they will struggle as they progress in their careers. On the other side of the coin are competencies. There are three in particular that are essential for leaders to grow: the ability to lead, the ability to develop and the ability to get results.

Ability to lead

Leading is not just about barking orders or charging up a hill. There are many facets of leadership, and it’s vital that leaders are well versed in leadership principles. There are three critical concepts that leaders must master. The first is that “it’s not about you, it’s about them.” Many poor leaders want to take the credit for success. What they don’t realize is if you, an individual, take the credit, it’s limited. There’s only so much credit that can be taken by an individual. If you give all the credit to your team, on the other hand, it becomes unlimited. It’s not based on an individual’s contributions but the contributions of many others.

The second is, “the team isn’t there to serve you, you serve the team.” In leadership theory, this is called servant leadership. In business, once the team’s direction has been set, the leader’s main role is shielding the team from higher level distractions and providing them with the resources they need to be successful. Many poor leaders derive power from withholding resources. This only makes them weaker because their teams will be weaker. Any organization that performs at a high level doesn’t assess a leader by his or her actions — that leader is assessed by their team’s actions.

Finally, trust is the undercurrent for a leader’s influence. If it stops flowing, any influence the leader has evaporates instantly. The army has an illuminating concept, the “say-do gap.” Essentially, your actions’d better back up your words. Otherwise there’s a gap, and through that gap flows the trust and respect of your team.

Ability to develop

A key factor in whether leaders will be successful in more challenging leadership roles can be largely determined by the environment they create. Is that environment one that is focused on the development of others? Does it foster a stewardship of the profession? Does it drive a steadfast adherence to achieving the company’s mission, vision and goals?

Leaders can directly influence their environments by the precedents they set for themselves. If they’re constantly late, the team will take that as a cue that timeliness doesn’t matter and, as such, projects will miss deadlines. Do you as a leader take pride in praising your team? If so, your team members will follow suit and praise each other. Do you tolerate dismissive behavior? If so, your team will be afraid to speak up for fear of being shamed in front of their peers.

To create an environment that fosters the development of both individuals and teams, create a leadership philosophy and ensure all of your team members know it. In addition to creating an environment that enables your team to develop, prepare yourself for the daily challenges of being a leader. It can be exhausting, but leaders never quit. They eat last. They work more hours. They accept the responsibility for their teams. No leader can effectively do this without being mentally and physically prepared.

Ability to get results

The last competency is where the rubber meets the road. At the end of the day, if you do what you say and create a positive environment for your team, but you fail to get the results, nothing else will matter. Here’s where balance comes in. Leaders who are too focused on the needs of their teams won’t make the tough calls to get the job done. Leaders who are too focused on the needs of the organization will burn out their teams and not get the job done.

The key to achieving that balance is empowerment through trusting your team and building the strongest team possible. Empowerment only works if the undercurrent of trust is flowing strong within the team. With trust, the leader feels safe in delegating tasks to the team. With trust, teams know that if the leader is asking them to work through the weekend, there is a good reason for it. With trust, the leader knows if the team has to adapt to a changing environment, they will. To achieve results time after time, the leader must be constantly focused on achieving balance.

Leadership is an awesome responsibility and incredibly rewarding. If you’re a leader or are striving to become a leader, focus on developing the three competencies listed above. Learn about the various principles of leadership, do all that you can to create an environment that enables you and your team to develop, and strive to achieve a balance between your team and your organization to get the results you are looking for.

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